The government launched the Smart Cities Mission with the aim of leveraging digital solutions to build sustainable cities. At the forefront of smart cities’ development is the adoption of new-age technologies to improve urban operations. These smart solutions are based on advanced information and communication technology tools and require a robust digital infrastructure. However, the success of a smart city depends not only on the use of advanced technologies, but also on active participation from stakeholders across the value chain. This mission has opened up new growth avenues for stakeholders in the smart city domain.
A look at the emerging technologies, their applications and opportunities for stakeholders created by the Smart Cities Mission…
Smart poles leverage sensor and communication technologies to create an intelligent environment, and are fast emerging as the core components of a smart city infrastructure. Smart poles are multifunctional light poles equipped with electronic components, software controls and smart sensors that can receive and transmit data.
Fibre-based backhaul networks
Optical fibre cable (OFC) facilitates the installation of sensors, which are a critical component of intelligent solutions deployed in smart cities. In addition, OFC offers higher reliability and security in networks, supporting lower attenuation for transmission over long distances. Going forward, the use of advanced technologies in smart cities will lead to a strong demand for OFC and fibre optic interconnectivity products.
Integrated command and control centres (ICCCs) monitor all the activities taking place in a city from a centrally located, technology-enabled and responsive location. These centres are designed to aggregate the information across multiple applications with the help of sensors deployed across the city to provide actionable information with appropriate visualisation to decision-makers. As of July 2020, around 96 cities have initiated projects for building ICCCs under the mission.
In August 2020, Karnal Smart City Limited announced the setting up of an ICCC to make it operational by November 2020. In December 2019, the Gurugram Metropolitan Development Authority partnered with Cisco to launch an ICCC, which will use digital technology to enhance citizens’ safety, optimise public infrastructure and better manage traffic. To tackle the ongoing Covid-19 crisis, over 47 smart cities have converted their ICCCs into war rooms for real-time data monitoring.
Role of new-age technology
Among wireless technologies, low-power wide area networks (LPWANs) have proved ideal for smart cities. LPWAN technologies such as Sigfox, long range, LTE for machines and narrowband internet of things provide low-power and low-data-rate communication over long distances. The launch of 5G is also expected to play a key role in transforming cities. The faster speeds and universal connectivity offered by 5G are expected to generate significant gains for smart cities.
The smart cities initiative can be implemented in a more efficient way by using AI in the deployment of various smart solutions. AI technologies can be put to use across various verticals such as healthcare, agriculture, education, traffic management and surveillance.
Cloud and IoT
IoT creates a massive network of things that communicate with one another, thus providing access to huge volumes of data. It keeps track of activities in real time, and processes and stores data on the cloud. However, smart city deployment requires the incorporation of a distributed open source network and a decentralised cloud-based platform, as IoT alone cannot meet the needs of the fast growing urban population. Thus, a combination of cloud and IoT is required to manage the huge amount of unstructured data efficiently.
Opportunities for stakeholders
Since a smart city relies on a robust communications infrastructure, the project has created a range of opportunities for stakeholders across the value chain.
Towercos are gearing up to play a bigger role in smart City development. Digital infrastructure forms the backbone of the smart city initiative, and towercos in India are well positioned to create and maintain such infrastructure. Towercos can offer a range of solutions for smart cities including passive infrastructure, small cells, Wi-Fi and fibre connectivity. In addition, the industry is now focusing on building smart poles for cities as installing more steel towers is not feasible.
For instance, in February 2020, Dehradun Smart City Limited collaborated with Indus Towers to install 60 smart poles and 70 smart towers and lay an underground fibre network spanning 100 km in PPP mode. The smart poles will be equipped with Wi-Fi access points, LED lighting solutions and CCTV cameras. In addition, the company collaborated with the New Delhi Municipal Council to commission a total of 72 smart poles, of which 55 have already been installed. Indus Towers collaborated with Vadodara Smart City Development Limited for the installation of 220 smart poles. In Karnataka, Indus Towers is deploying smart poles, which can offer Wi-Fi services across an area of around 300 metres. Meanwhile, Bharti Infratel has entered into a partnership with Bhopal Smart City Development Corporation Limited to install 400 smart poles in the city.
With its virtually unlimited capacity, OFC provides the perfect backbone for the delivery of high speed internet in a smart city. Besides, the successful implementation of new technologies such as 5G, IoT and AI is not possible without a strong fibre network and this presents a strong case for the deployment of a citywide OFC network.
To this end, in July 2020, Sterlite Power announced the creation of an intra-city fibre network for the Gurugram smart city project. As part of the project, the company has installed four underground ducts carrying fibre that connect all bus stops, schools, police stations and government buildings along with various private buildings. The entire route is updated through the geographic information system along with an integrated fibre monitoring system for proactive monitoring as well as preventive and corrective maintenance.
Given the use of IoT in the implementation of smart cities, there are several opportunities for manufacturers to roll out high capacity communication networks. In June 2020, Delta successfully set up a large-scale video wall for the Kochi smart city at its integrated command control and communication centre (IC4). With this, Kochi became India’s first smart city that has an IC4 completely deployed on the cloud. CCTV cameras installed in public places across the city can be accessed from video walls, and other government services are also expected to be integrated gradually.
Ericsson is also exploring opportunities in smart metering, public safety and remote health monitoring services in India. Further, Cisco has established a smart city surveillance system in Lucknow by deploying 280 cameras, 10,000 drones and night-vision mobile vans. Meanwhile, Nokia has partnered with BSNL for the latter’s smart telecom pole project, which entails the deployment of a smart pole solution that is integrated with a smart LED lighting system, CCTV cameras, digital billboards and environmental sensors.
The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, along with various other factors, is expected to drive the adoption of cloud solutions in smart cities as these solutions minimise physical contact and support faster deployments. This will create growth opportunities for cloud solution providers. For instance, ESDS’s auto-scalable cloud technology hosts over 40 applications of the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC). The eNlight cloud solution provided by ESDS facilitates PMC’s e-governance project.
Data centre providers
The success of a smart city will significantly depend on the robustness of its supporting infrastructure. To this end, a data centre with uptime reliability and scalability for the effective functioning of the smart city takes precedence over other factors. Going forward, edge data centres will form an integral part of the entire physical infrastructure and serve as a data storage and processing platform. However, with the rising data security threats, the onus of safeguarding the data and ensuring its encryption will be on the data centre industry. Reliance has recently announced that it will offer Microsoft cloud services to small and medium enterprises through Jio, and also set up data centres that will run Microsoft’s Azure cloud computing platform.
Smart cities are grappling with an increasing number of breaches and sophisticated cyberattacks as systems are getting more interconnected. Cyberattacks can cripple an entire smart city if they are well executed and the consequences could extend beyond data loss and financial impact to include the disruption of crucial city services and infrastructure. This calls for an integrated cyber risk framework, which can secure a smart city at various stages of development including planning, design and transformation, thus creating a business opportunity for cybersecurity providers.
The way ahead
Over the past few years, smart city implementation agencies and stakeholders in the value chain have made concerted efforts to increase technology penetration under the Smart Cities Mission. Going forward, the government needs to incentivise stakeholders to deploy innovative technologies in order to make rapid progress in building cities of the future.